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Hike the 2,000-mile trail that most people never finsih

The Appalachian Trail, or AT, stretches more than 2,000 miles along the US East Coast.

The longest marked trail in the country runs from Georgia to Maine. It connects 14 states and passes through ridges and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range.

Parts of the AT are within a couple hours drive for millions of Americans, but few have walked its full length. Each year, thousands of people attempt to hike the entire AT. Only one in four succeeds.

National Geographic explored the wooded footpath, travelling south to north, in a 50-minute documentary. You can take the adventure in our slideshow or watch the movie on Netflix.

The Appalachian Trail, better known as the AT, stretches about 2,175 miles along the eastern United States.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

It runs from Georgia to Maine, making it the longest marked trail in the country, and one of the longest in the world.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The trail cuts through 14 states along the way, including New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The AT is divided into four sections: The Southern Mountains, The Virginia Highlands, the Mid-Atlantic Lowlands, and New England.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The AT was first proposed in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, a former forester and newspaper editor. He hoped the trail would be a way for people to escape city life and reconnect with wilderness.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The AT was not completed as a continuous footpath until 1937.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

This was largely the work of volunteers who found routes, made maps, and established local trail clubs.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The AT's signature white blaze, plastered on trees and rocks, guide hikers along the route.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Even today, the AT is maintained by thousands of volunteers who clean the trail, clear fallen trees, touch up trail markers, and warn hikers of hazards.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Someone who aims to hike the whole trail in one shot is known as a 'thru-hiker.' 'Day-hikers' or 'section-hikers' do small portions of the trail.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Every year, around 2,000 hikers attempt to tackle the AT's full length (around 2 to 3 million people walk a portion of the Trail).

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

But only about one-quarter of those thru-hikers, or around 500 people, make it the full way.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

There are two kinds of thru-hikers: Northbound (Georgia to Maine) and Southbound (Maine to Georgia). Most thru-hikers walk north, starting in Georgia in March or April and finishing in Maine in September.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Most hikers cover about 15 miles a day, taking six months to complete the entire trail.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Some hikers load up on food high in calories like Snickers bars to maintain strength. Many climbers can burn up to 6,000 calories a day.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Fewer than 1,000 people have completed the AT southbound, in part because it's a tougher hike that starts with Mount Katahdin, the hardest climb of the entire path.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

If you start in the Southern Mountains, the trail head begins at the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The trail head is 10 miles from the nearest access road. A crew of volunteers helps to shuttle hikers to the starting line.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Chad Kinsey, a 33-year-old network administrator, is being dropped off today. Kinsey is a section-hiker, hiking for five to seven days at a time.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Around 15% of thru-hikers throw in the towel after just a few days of hiking through Georgia.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

One of the biggest issues hikers run into is packing too much.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

After two days, the AT runs through an inn, where most hikers drop pounds of gear.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Extra food, tents, and water bottles either get dumped or traded in for lighter versions at the store. Many ambitious hikers think they are going to read at night, but end up being too tired, so lots of books are also cast away.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Every year, the store mails home 4.5 tons of equipment, or about 4.5 pounds per hiker.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Meanwhile, after hiking some 28 miles, Kinsey reaches his final destination before turning around.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Along the way, he passes one of the oldest hiking shelters on the Trail, built in 1934. There are more than 250 shelters along the Trail. These are often three-sided structures with a wooden floor, also known as lean-tos.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Kinsey's journey ends on the top of Blood mountain, the highest peak on the Georgian section of the AT.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

But thru-hikers move on to conquer the rest of the Southern mountains.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The path continues through North Carolina, across the Fontana Dam along the Tennessee border.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

More than 70 miles of Trail weaves through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Here backpackers cross the trail's highest mountain, Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

It's a steep half-mile walk to the top of Clingmans Dome.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

But once on the summit, the observation tower offers incredible 360 degrees views of the park.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Next, hikers will tackle the Virginia Highlands. Compared to the Southern mountains, this patch of the trail is relatively flat and hikers can cover 20 to 25 miles per day.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Backpackers have been on the trail for about a month when they reach the trail town of Damascus, Virginia at the southern border.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Here they can stop for food, clean up, sleep in a real bed, and stock up on supplies.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Deborah Taylor sees a lot of hikers come through who are ready to give up.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

A juicy hamburger and thick-cut French fries usually gives them the strength to move on.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

More than one-fourth of the AT (about 550 miles) slices through Virginia. Moving north, 105 miles of this section cuts through the heart of Shenandoah National Park.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The AT is home to thousands of different plants and animals.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The black bear is one of the largest animals that lives around the trail. They are especially common in Shenandoah National Park.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Hidden cameras have snapped more than 5,000 images of creatures roaming near the AT, including the bobcat seen here.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Foxes are also common.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

As are deer.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

And raccoons.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

At least one herd of horses runs wild though the southern part of the Virginia Highlands.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Wildlife experts think they are the offspring of domestic horses.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Venomous snakes including the Rattlesnake and Copperhead are common along rockier sections of the trail.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Surprisingly, the biggest danger does not come from bears or snakes, but from ticks that carry Lyme disease.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Thru-hikers hit the half-way point at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, which also marks the end of the Virginia Highlands portion.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

With almost 1,200 miles to go, it's tradition for hikers to stop and pose for a picture.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Hikers undergo radical transformations along the way, both physically and mentally.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Many men grow beards.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Backpackers usually adopt trail names, like 'Sunbeam.'

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The Mid-Atlantic section of the trail takes hikers through Maryland and Pennsylvania. This is one of the more travelled portions, where the Trail hugs farmlands and often crosses roads.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The lowest elevation of the hike comes when the AT crosses the Hudson River at Bear Mountain Bridge.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

The Mid-Atlantic Lowlands run to the fourth and final section of the AT: New England.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Northbound thru-hikers hit New England in the fall. At this point, 80% of the trail is behind them, but one of the toughest sections still lies ahead.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Through New Hampshire and Maine, the path is rugged, steep, and slippery. Maine's 281 miles of trail are some of the most strenuous and remote to hike in all 14 states.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Gary Hill has been on the trail for six months and is three days from the northern terminus on Mount Katahdin. He is 70 years old.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Gary also faces the risk of getting kicked off the trail before he reaches the end. The trail up Katahdin is closed on days when weather makes hiking there dangerous.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

After travelling more than 2,000 miles, Gary spends his final night on the Trail.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

When Gary wakes up, the weather is good and he begins his five-hour trek to Baxter Peak on Katahdin.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Even the strongest hikers find the final stretch tough.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Luckily, Gary has many people with him for support.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Finally, Gary makes it to the finish line on Baxter Peak. He kisses the marker.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

Gary joins the elite group of '2,000 milers,' a term coined in the 1970s to identify the group of hikers who successfully complete the AT.

National Geographic: Appalachian Trail

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